By Lee Wei Lian
KUALA LUMPUR, July 27 ― Penang Port Commission chairman Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said today he welcomed a bid by the state’s Chinese Chamber of Commerce to form a consortium to buy the shipping hub and prevent it from falling into the hands of tycoon Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary.
But Dr Chua added that while he was receptive to the new bid, it should not be done just to keep it in local hands.
“Don’t say that Penang port is for Penang because then Johor people should also say Johor port is for Johor and Selangor will say Port Klang is for Selangor,” he said.
Part of the fear of a takeover by Seaport is that the main point of entry in the north would be reduced further, to merely being a feeder port, in favour of the booming Johor ports.
Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP), which only started operations in 1999, now handles more than six million TEUs a year ― five times more than Penang Port.
When contacted, a PTP official representative was not able to issue an immediate response.
Dr Chua would not comment, however, on the Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce’s assertion that the move to dispose of Penang Port to Seaport Terminal, which already controls the PTP and Johor Port, was against the Competition Act 2010 and was potentially an anti-trust violation.
Seaport Terminal is controlled by Syed Mokhtar, who is seen to be tightening his grip over logistics in the country with several ports and Pos Malaysia already under his control. He is also reported to be working on a takeover of national railway KTM.
PCCC president Tan Sri Tan Kok Ping said the association plans to lead a consortium that would include the state Malay and Indian chambers of commerce as well as the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers, in the attempt to take over Penang Port.
FMM has since denied it is planning to join the consortium.
“We want to privatise the port to give something back to the people of Penang,” Tan said yesterday.
“The port is a valuable cultural heritage of the state and also has great historical value and economic benefits.”
Tan added that RM500 million has already been prepared, saying that the proposal by the chamber “had nothing to do with politics” and was in the interests of the public.
The mounting resistance to Syed Mokhtar’s bid for the northern gateway comes after the Penang business groups and the port’s workers signed a memorandum last month rejecting Putrajaya’s proposal to privatise Penang Port.
Penang’s George Town, which was the first place in Malaysia to be developed by the British, was for a period the premier port in the region before being overtaken by Singapore. It has also long prided itself as a centre for learning and culture.
The harbour, which also features nostalgic colonial-era ferry services, was dealt another blow in the 1970’s when its free port status was taken away.
There has also been surprising resistance to the deal from Penang Barisan Nasional, with chairman Teng Chang Yeow also urging the federal government to review its decision to privatise the island’s port, saying that many industry groups were opposed to the move and it was also counter to the sentiment of the Penang public.